Sunday, 14 October 2012

#F1 - Vettel's no Legend (yet)

So, another race victory for Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel in Korea this week, and another seemingly impressive statistic to go with it.  Last week in Japan, we were gleefully informed that Vettel had equalled Juan Manuel Fangio's record of race wins, and this week he equalled Jim Clark.

So Vettel's a true great of Formula 1, then - just like Fangio, Clark, and others?  Well, no - not really.

I'm not saying he doesn't have the potential to be, or that he won't be.  He's still very young, at only twenty-five years old, and already has an impressive portfolio, so it's clear that he has a bright future in the sport.

In my opinion, however, equalling or surpassing previous records of race wins is a fairly meaningless statistic...  Much as I'm a sucker for a bit of classic F1 history, what relevance does a comparison with Fangio's or Clark's era have, when the sport has changed so much since then?

In simple terms, there are more races these days.  So yes, of course the modern-day F1 driver (providing he's good, which Vettel unquestionably is) will eventually win more races - purely because there are so many more races available to be won.

In 1951 (when Fangio won his first World Championship), there were eight races on the calendar.  By 1963 (when Jim Clark took the first of his two World Championships), only two races had been added to the calendar, making ten in total.  This year, we have already had sixteen, with another four still to come - twenty races in total, which is two-and-a-half times the number Fangio raced in 1951.

With so many more opportunities to win races in the modern era, is it any wonder that successful drivers rack them up so quickly?

A better measure of these things, in my opinion, would be the overall percentage of wins.  This allows us to take into account the wildly different amount of races contested by drivers from different eras, and tells a rather different story...

Despite only having participated in fifty-two F1 races throughout his entire career, Fangio leads the board with twenty-four wins, giving him a win percentage of 46.14% - a full 7% ahead of second-place man and rival to Fangio, Alberto Ascari, who won 39.39% of races in his F1 career, making Fangio the only man ever to have won over 40% of his races.  (Apart from anything else, this just goes to prove what a tough sport Formula 1 really is, as even the very greatest in the sport's history always lose more races than they win.  No one has ever won over 50% of their career races.)  Jim Clark is next in third, with 34.25%.

Other legendary F1 names predictably make an appearance in the Top 10 - including Michael Schumacher, and Jackie Stewart.  Sebastian Vettel is currently in 8th place, with 25.77%.

Of course, this is still not entirely conclusive.  More has changed in Formula 1 over the years than just the amount of races in a season.  Comparisons across so many years will always be shady guidelines, and little more.

Is Vettel a legend of Formula 1?  No, not yet.

Will he be, one day?  Quite possibly, yes.

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